Sunday, 19 February 2012

What is inflammation?

In the paleo/primal world, "inflammation" is thrown around everywhere. Don't eat this because it can cause inflammation. Eat this to prevent inflammation. Take these supplements to help inflammation. Auto-immune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can all be caused by inflammation in the body.

Whenever I get someone who is intrigued by my odd eating habits who let me explain why I don't eat grains, legumes and dairy is because of the inflammation it can cause in the body, they seem to just smile and nod and let me keep going. But did they actually understand?

The first thought that comes into my mind, and probably the general public's, when I hear "inflammation", is some kind of acute injury that has become swollen and inflamed. But I'm not sure if people really understand what kind of "inflammation" I'm talking about and what it can do to your body and health. I guess I need to be more specific and that I'm talking about chronic inflammation and left unaddressed, chronic inflammation can cause serious long-term damage.

So what is inflammation?
Inflammation is an immune response. When a person experiences pain, injury or illness the immune system is activated causing inflammation. It occurs when blood cells, antibodies and other immune system components are directed to the site that’s under stress in an attempt to repair the damage.

Acute inflammation to some kind of injury or pathogen is a healthy response to a harmful condition. It is short-term and may last several days, but is necessary for proper healing.

Chronic inflammation is a constant low-level reaction that can spread damage throughout the body. Researchers from a variety of medical areas repeatedly conclude that inflammation plays a major role in a variety of illnesses.  The the body's defense system -- the immune system -- triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign substances to fight off. The body's normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. 

What can result from chronic inflammation

Some not mentioned: insulin resistance, depression, obesity, chronic pain

Some major contributors to chronic inflammation:
High sugar, high carbohydrate, low-fat diets (i.e. a diet high in omega -6 fatty acids)
Lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet
Not enough sleep
Lack of exercise

So to reduce chronic inflammation it basically comes down to eating real, whole foods (that means fresh food, nothing from a package or plastic/cardboard box Mom), getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night, reducing your stressors and being active. 

Mark's Daily Apple had a good article about inflammation.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Leaky gut/Digestive health

One of the most noticeable changes I've seen after switching to a paleo diet is that I no longer get stomach cramps, bloating or gas after eating. I grew up seeing my mom consistently having the same kind of symptoms, and supposedly my grandpa had a "sensitive" stomach too, so I just thought that I was destined to have the same unhappy stomach. These symptoms all went away within a couple days of switching over, and now only when I sway from paleo do they return.

I also noticed this past December that eating too many high carbohydrate foods caused my face to become inflamed and puffy and I also get very irritable and cranky. These could very well be related to my sugar cane allergy too.

I think it is true to say that I do have a sensitive stomach because I always had an upset stomach, and some people I talk to can't even relate because they've just never experienced stomach discomfort. From all of the research I've been doing, healing my gut should be my number one priority because all of my symptoms appear to be related to a leaky gut.

Research is suggesting that health and illness is predicated on the health of the intestine. Our gut is filled with about 5-7 pounds of microflora, both pathogenic and beneficial. The beneficial microflora are extremely important for our immune system and maintaining the integrity of the gut wall. But there are ways that the pathogenic microflora can take over. Poor diet with refined foods and carbs feed the pathogenic microflora but also antibiotics, hormones and birth control imbalance these microflora.

The digestive track is a barrier that determines what gets in the body and what comes out.  We want good nutrients that nourish and fuel cellular processes in, and toxins and waste to stay out. The gut makes this discernment of the good things we ingest and filters them through the bloodstream, making sure the waste is excreted. A build up of toxins can damage the intestinal track making it permeable, that is leaky gut. What happens is when these particles cross the gut barrier and move out into the blood stream, the body thinks they're toxins and start making anti-bodies to attack them.

Basically anything that damages the gut lining, be it bacteria, virus, grains or dairy, can predispose you to neurological and autoimmune conditions, psychiatric symptoms, allergies, depression and more.

Two great podcasts about digestion and gut health: